There’s nothing quite like the bond between siblings. Something about springing forth from the same womb space really must be a unifying factor. Although as a person with step and half siblings, I’ve found that blood doesn’t need to be shared in order to experience the undeniable sibling love that is strong, special and hard to define. And when the going gets hard, well, that’s when I generally let memes do my work for me.
However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to look back on my younger years and try to make sense of my experiences through the lenses of hindsight and “wisdom.” I am the oldest child and girl. I have two other sisters and one brother. My brother is the only sibling who is my full, biological sibling. I don’t usually think of it that way (my sisters still be my sisters, yo), but those are the facts of the case. And as such, there’s always been things we’ve had more in common: genetics, similar facial features, strong wills and an affinity for quoting movies to each other in normal conversations. But one thing we don’t share is gender, and even though as a kid I didn’t really have fancy terms at the ready, I certainly had feelings about the noticeable difference in treatment we received and often times, not positive ones. Whether it was a seemingly harmless comment about how much better off I’d be if I had my brother’s undeniable charisma to being denied the opportunity to try out for my high school football team (“you’ll ruin your teeth!” my mom fretted), while my bro became a defensive starter two years after I graduated. And what it all boiled down to in my mind was that, as a penis-less child, I would somehow always be found wanting, found lacking.
Come to find out, I’m not alone. Below are some actual conversations I’ve had and experiences that have been shared with me in regard to the eternal, intrinsic struggle between brother and sister:
“I just always had this feeling of being put to the side. My brothers came first. I had to be the normal one because they had so many issues and that took up all the time and attention. If there wasn’t drama with one of them, then there was drama with the other. I mean, it was what is was, you know?”
“Our parents were constantly on our asses about being modest for our brothers and my dad. It wasn’t acceptable, even when we were just hanging around the house, to be in a sleeveless shirt. And the boys never had to do house chores. EVER. That’s what we did. It’s kinda stupid, actually. And my parents often talked to and encouraged my brothers to figure out what they wanted to do for their majors and with their lives while my sisters and I were told to go wherever we would most likely meet a man.”
“I was the youngest and the only girl, but I was never treated better or even equally with my brothers. There were trips or experiences that they got to have that I didn’t. I was especially bothered by the fact that when it came time to do chores, they got to go outside and do “man stuff” (weeds, lawn mowing, etc.), which is what I wanted to do, but my mom would always make me do indoor housework, which I always hated. It’s not like we ever switched jobs either; it really seemed unfair.”
“I don’t know what it was, but my grandmother always favored the boys of the family. She would talk about them with such pride. Hell, one of her sons even lived with her until they day she died, growing pot in the backyard and mooching off her like a leech. I just never understood it.”
“I just feel like I messed up somehow. I mean, the *Bower family has sent every single son on a [LDS] mission, and it just really disappoints me that mine didn’t go. Yes, I know you (her daughter) served a mission, and I’m proud of that, but you know it’s not the same thing.”
Yes, one of those experiences is my own. No, I’m not going to say which one. Just as I’m keeping the identity of other friends and relatives private, in this case, I feel like doing the same for myself. But the main point is that today, in our supposedly forward-thinking American society (not like the Chinese who simply throw away their child if it’s a girl, of course**), there is still a very real imbalance when it comes to how children are treated depending on their gender, and in many instances, the scale tips in favor of the sons.
An extremely interesting study was conducted by Netmums about the way parents, specifically moms, differentiate how they interact with their children depending on gender. According to the study:
“The 2,500-strong survey… found that although almost one half of mothers say they know it is wrong to treat boys and girls differently, almost 90% admit they do exactly that. Mothers are, the research shows, twice as likely to be more critical of their daughters than their sons, while over half admitted that they feel a stronger tie to their son than their daughter.”
The study goes on to suggest that the effects of such favoritism toward sons and criticism of daughters can have long-lasting and damaging effects, such as women growing up to be more self-critical and having more difficulty in moving past their mistakes. I can only speak for my own circumstances, and while I know my mother did the very best she could and is an amazing woman, I have always felt that there was a certain something my brother had by being a son that I could never compete with as a daughter, not even by being the first-born. When we hit the young adult phase (our early twenties) and I would do something “outrageous” like dye my hair blue, somehow this was a bigger deal than the crazy, sometimes dangerous stunts that my brother would pull, you know, just “a boy being a boy.” And the more I’ve thought about my own struggles with this issue, as well as those of people I’m close with, it fuels my anger and drives me to want a different world for my future daughters AND sons. A world where the girls mow the lawn AND do dishes and where the boys pull weeds AND cook meals. A world where a child, regardless of gender, has the opportunity to grow, thrive, make mistakes, and learn from them. A world that at present, is a reality only for some.
For some like a close friend of mine who told me that “I was raised differently [than my brothers] because I’m an individual, not because I’m a female.”
And that is a home and family philosophy I can actually get behind.
I’d like to close out with a fantastic question my Noni (grandma), parent of two wonderful daughters, often poses to my mom: “is having a son really so fantastic, it’s worth making a fool of yourself over?”
Or, as I take it to mean, is having a son the pinnacle of success as a mother and woman and as such, demands a special ceremony of bending over backwards for him?
No, Noni, I don’t that it does.
*Name changed for privacy reasons
**Yes, I’m being facetious here. Clearly, we as Americans do NOT have a monopoly on faux forward thinking.